By Betsy Bozdech,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Powerful docu addresses critically important issue for kids.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Bully's powerful, important message is that everyone can -- and should -- make a difference when it comes to the issue of bullying. Kids are encouraged to use courage to "stand up, not stand by" when they see bullying taking place and are told that "everything starts with one." The movie addresses teen suicide, mourning, and conflict in ways that are likely to upset both teens and parents, but everything serves to reinforce the message that bullying needs to be stopped. Compassion, empathy, and integrity are major themes.
Positive Role Models
Bullying victims are portrayed sympathetically, including one who brandished a gun at the kids who were mistreating her and consequently faced criminal charges. Some of the kids exhibit great strength in the face of adversity -- especially Kelby, a gay teen who wants to stand up and make a change for herself and others. Parents are generally supportive and determined to help their kids and/or others in similar situations. School administrators, on the other hand, come across as unhelpful, inflexible, and oblivious, and the lives/motivations of the bullies themselves aren't investigated or addressed.
Violence & Scariness
The movie makes clear that the most severe bullying violence isn't always physical, but also verbal and emotional. Teen/tween suicide is one of the movie's central topics, with friends and family members emotionally mourning the loss of their loved ones. Many kids recount repeated incidents of physical abuse (being choked, sat on, stabbed with pencils, etc.) and threats (one brutal scene captured by filmmakers includes a boy saying, graphically, that he'll shove a broomstick up another boy's rear and cut him with a knife). Another teen discusses previous suicide attempts and a past history of cutting. Hitting/punching/scuffling, both between friends and between bullies and their victims. Security camera footage shows a girl brandishing a gun at other kids when she feels she's been pushed too far. Other images of guns, some within a hunting context.
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The most brutal language appears in a threatening scene on a school bus, in which an older student tells a younger one that he'll "f---ing end you and shove a broomstick up your a-- ... I'll cut your face off and s--t." Also several other uses of "f--k" (and its derivatives), especially in the early part of the movie, as well as "s--t," "ass," "p---y," "bitch," and many derogatory terms for homosexuals ("f-g," etc.).
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Products & Purchases
Various labels/brands are seen, but since this is a documentary, none are product placement.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Bully is a no-holds-barred documentary that intimately portrays bullying victims' daily lives. While it's often heartbreaking and deals with tough issues like suicide, the movie addresses an incredibly important, timely topic -- bullying -- in a frank, relatable way that's age appropriate for teens and relevant for middle schoolers if an adult is present to guide discussion. Bully's strong language (including a brutal, profanity-laden scene in which one boy says to another that he'll "shove a broomstick up your a--" and "cut your face off and s--t") initially earned it an R rating from the MPAA -- a rating that the production company chose not to accept, officially releasing the film as unrated. But none of the swearing is gratuitous. Like it or not, it's a realistic portrayal of what every middle schooler and older hears every day. This gives the film veracity and credibility with kids, and it will justifiably shock parents.
Bully's most challenging material isn't just the language, but the suicides. Seeing grieving parents and friends could potentially be upsetting to teens and preteens, so they should definitely watch with adults. Bully also addresses the concepts of cutting, physical abuse, and more, but in a way that presents the consequences as well as the behavior itself. Victims' parents are generally portrayed as supportive and loving, while school administrators come off in a much less positive light. Ultimately, Bully encourages kids to stand up to bullies, not stand by, and reinforces the fact that everyone can make a difference when it comes to this essential issue.
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Based on 29 parent reviews
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What's the Story?
BULLY takes a frank, head-on look at the bullying epidemic happening in America's middle and high schools. It profiles several young victims -- including Alex, a 12-year-old in Sioux City, Iowa, who endures merciless teasing and physical abuse on the school bus every day, and Kelby, a 16-year-old in Tuttle, Okla., who has been ostracized and attacked ever since coming out as a lesbian. In telling their stories and others, Bully explores the full range of bullying's impact on kids, their families, and their communities, from the devastation of teen suicide to frustrated parents getting nowhere with school administrators. And, more than anything, it encourages teens to make a difference -- to stand up against bullying instead of standing by.
Is It Any Good?
This documentary is heartbreaking, moving, infuriating, and indisputably essential viewing for middle- and high-schoolers and their parents. It's impossible not to be affected by the stories of these tweens and teens; you'll tear up when Tyler Long's parents recount what drove their 17-year-old firstborn to suicide, and you'll want to scream at the administrator who downplays Alex's parents' concerns when they come in to talk about how to keep their son safe on his way to and from school. Particularly chilling is the story of 14-year-old Ja'Meya, who ended up brandishing a gun at her bullies when she felt pushed to the edge of her endurance. No one was hurt, but the fact that she even considered that as a response to her situation shows you just how much pain some kids are in every day.
Bully is a little bit on the slow side for teens (and it might have been a better fit for school viewing at an hour's length), but it's also extremely relevant and relatable. It's gritty, but that very grittiness is what gives it the power to hook teens in and open their eyes to what's probably going on around them every day. And that, in turn, could help convince kids that they really do have the power to make a difference.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about an individual's responsibility to stand up, not stand by. Is that easy to do? How do you think people can really make a difference against bullies after watching Bully?
Parents, talk to your kids about teen suicide. This is an incredibly tough topic, but one that needs to be addressed. What makes some people think that it's their only option? What impact does their decision have on their friends and family? Where can kids in despair turn for assistance?
Bullying is often seen as physical abuse, but Bully shows that words are just as powerful. Talk about the different ways that people can bully others; what has the most lasting impact? The movie doesn't spend too much time discussing the online/digital side of the issue. How does cyberbullying impact you and your peers?
How does Bully promote compassion and empathy? What about courage and integrity? Why are these important character strengths?
School administrators come off very poorly in Bully, and there's lots of blaming the victim. Do you think administrators leave victims feeling completely discounted? Who else can bullying victims turn to for help?
- In theaters: March 30, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: February 12, 2013
- Director: Lee Hirsch
- Studio: Weinstein Co.
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: High School
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Empathy, Integrity
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense thematic material, disturbing content, and some strong language -- all involving kids (initially rated R for some language)
- Last updated: October 8, 2022
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